Reverential Grief and Transformation through Sorrow
Written By Dr. Julianna Englund, ND, LAc
My mom died 2 years, 7 months and 27 days ago. Her parting with the human world was brief and only lasted around 3 weeks. Her birthday is here again on October 30th… another special day of the year when my heart breaks wide open again and love flies out. Another day when the memories seep in.
My mama’s and my relationship was complex and had many chapters. There were so many ways that we hurt each other along the way. We challenged each other. We loved each other. We needed each other.
"The Dark Night of the Soul"
Her death marked the end of a series of years that were full of difficult and distressing events in my personal life. With her departure, I finally surrendered to the darkness: the “dark night of the soul” they say. For around a year, I went inward and towards the shadows. I let go of keeping in touch with friends. I cut a lot of my hair off too. I did my best to stay present in my work life and for my children and partner, but that was all I could muster. Everything I did with my life was about helping others and I could barely take care of myself so I hardly tried. The grief was so deep I just couldn’t begin to talk about it. The abyss engulfed me and if it wasn’t for the fact that I had an 18-month-old who needed me, I would have let it swallow me whole.
I stayed in the Darkness for a long time, welcoming the sorrow and acknowledging the grief. Within the shadows, I intensely sorted through what and who were serving me in my life and what and who were no longer serving my best self. With her loss, my whole life changed and I no longer had the energy to deal with the superfluous. My whole sense of self was on the line. So much more was shifting in my life and relationships besides her loss.
She gave me many gifts in her death. She let me take care of her. She let me endure the sleepless nights beside her dying body. She let me give her that last shower while she moaned with enjoyment like a child. She let me struggle and make her life-saving and life-ending decisions. She let me administer the meds in her last few hours that eased her transition from life to end-of-life. In the exhaustion and trauma of it all, I served her with all that I knew… with all that I felt… withall that I am. And “I” broke into a thousand pieces.
Within the darkness “I” let go. I let go that I stepped on her foot and hurt her when I was helping her to go to the bathroom. I let go that I wasn’t able to keep her mouth and tongue moist while she was dying. I let go of the guilt that I didn’t recognize soon enough that she was sick. I let go that we didn’t have a lifetime of closeness. I let go of the times as a teenager when I would scream “I hate you”. I let go of the time when I admitted to her that she was not the mom that I needed her to be whileshe sobbed. I let go of the expectation that she would be around to know my children and see them grow. And at my darkest hour, her Light was still there shining on me.
Her Light illuminated my deepest shadow. That place filled with cobwebs for I hardly ever go there. Two and a half years later, I’m finally ready to voice it. Underneath it all, there’s a belief that she suffered in her life and at her end because of me and I feel shame. So here “I” am: writing these words for anyone to see my heart blown open and vulnerable. I'm not retreating anymore because now I can hold the shame and stare it down and calmly Know with my whole Being that I did my best. And as much as I have been conditioned to believe that everything is my fault, no, it is not. To believe this would mean that I have an immense power of control on events and others and I now know with every cell of my being that I do not.
I sat with her after she passed for hours and hours, the night turned into a new day. She was dressed and ready to go in the outfit I had chosen for her. All that lay between her cremation and that moment was me. I was there while she lay on the bed, the morning sunshine streaming in from the window. Her arms were neatly crossed over her chest, like she was holding her heart. The birds were singing outside the window as they went about their day. She had finally been able to leave her body the night before, but the process took days. I can’t quite put my words to it, but I sat in reflection for a long time about how a force that was bigger than her brought her into this world. I remembered when I birthed my son, the miracle of birth and how out of my hands it was. How long was her mom’s laboring process? Mom had overcome so much in her time here and consciously worked to heal so many of the wounds of her heart. In her last years, her heart was free and she gave me and my family nothing but unconditional love. In the end, she labored to disconnect from her body and leave on her terms. I would watch her in the middle of the night as she looked towards and repeatedly reached for the sky. She tried over and over again to willfully rise up and out of her body. Only when the natural time came, without her control, was she was finally able to leave. Was this the same force that had delivered her here? Did she go back to the same light from which she came?
Saying I miss her will never capture the depth of my longing. Saying I’m lonely without her help and her care will never capture how much I miss her. But in the stillnessof my breath, there is this Knowing that we both gave it our all. We both gave it our best. We both gave it our hearts.
Mommy, I miss you. I had assumed you would be here for this part of my life when I raised my family. I had assumed I could call you and talk to you whenever I needed to about all theparts of life that leave me feeling unsure and insecure. I had this fairytale assumption that we would know you were dying when you were dying and that we would have time to process the complexity of our relationship before you left for good.
Mama, we had finally found the closeness we had sought for my whole life and then you were gone so suddenly.
Mom, I gave you my all.
With dignity, I set down the shame like an offering to the Light. With courage and a willingness to see, I am aware that there were years that I carried bitterness towards her and a belief that I couldn’t count on her (or anyone else) to see me nor to be there for me. I genuinely believed that I had to do everything myself because Iwas not enough, thus no one would want to be an unconditional constant for me.
The Power of Breath
Breathing in, I hold the hurts from our past, the healing efforts, the honest love that consciously metamorphosized our relationship, and the vast love between us. Breathing out, I now Know with all my Being that I did my best as her daughter and as her caretaker. Breathing in, I hold the repeating situations I have been in with other close people in my life, always the same theme of self-blame, of shame. Breathing out, I truly Know with all my Being that I have done my best. All of those situations involved others’ decisions and actions too and the truth is, they were not all my fault. And slowly from my in-breaths and my out-breaths I have this transformative inner calmness because I see the shame now that has pervaded my life. Shame does not need to be the stump from which ego-parasites suck my energy while my Whole Self decomposes. Not anymore. For within the in-breath and within the out-breath, I calmly Know this now. As my body relaxes, I choose to align with the Peace within me and without effort, I am set Free.
Looking back and looking within, I am grateful for the reverential Grief. With great compassion for me, I honor that it’s okay to grieve, to feel, to make space for all the parts of it: the good and the not-so-good memories; the sadness; the anger; and the pain. I finally lost my “fight” when she left and without the closing down and keeping the pain out, I felt all the feels and let them move through me when they came. And I vow to continue letting them rise to my consciousness because I trust there is a timing that’s all its own. I believe that our bodies hold onto our grief and soul-nourishing experiencesuntil we are ready to See and until we are ready to Be. It’s not just that it happened and I’m going to let it go because I want to. Ha! No, the mind is not in control no matterwhat it says. Its literally breathing into the lung the grief and sorrow and anger and hurt and breathing out the release of that which no longer serves me. And naturally, delicately, slowly… the body-mind-soul transforms and detaches. That’s the secret to empowering our energy and health. That’s the soul-promoting and expansive detail. This is the thread of the open and human Heart and so lies the reverence.
We are here to embody the experiences. And there are some experiences that are difficult to embody. It’s not until we sit on the stump and breath it in and make space to feel it all with willingness, compassion and courage, that our deepest and darkest parts can be seen… can be Known. Otherwise, the dead tree is a rotting stump whose roots pervade all the aspects of our lives.
Grief and Healing into Wholeness
Grief doesn’t go away. We live in a river of grief. Look at the planet and how we are treating it. Look at how we treat each other. Look at how we treat ourselves. By doing our own grief work, we are uplifting our Highest selves, those around us and the collective of human consciousness. By finding the places where our painful memories and emotions hide, we may find meaning. And it’s only from that honest place that we can reveal what serves or doesn’t serve our Highest selves. Then, with Dignity, Compassion and Reverence, we can re-claim what was lost from our Whole.
It seems blasphemous for me to reveal that my mom’s and my relationship wasn’t perfect. However, I realize now that the fact that it wasn’t perfect was the pearl for me: the mucous layers of shame and egoic tension now transformed into an incandescent jewel swathed around a seed of self-compassion and Dignity.
The Healing Ripple Travels
With her gone, I now look to her as an ancestor. A wise shaman said once that we are dreamt into being by our ancestors. If this is so, then I am the dream. And in the dream, the struggles I have are the mirror of what my ancestors also have. But I am the one here in this physical world. I am the one who can do something about it. There’s an opportunity here to transform the familial thread of shame that has pervaded the line for a long time. In doing so, my waters become quiet, like a still Lake. My complete reflection mirroring back to me my Light and the Divinity on the other side and within. Then, without thought, my rock of shame drops. The ripple upon the clear lake travels all on its own to the other side. The new energy has begun, making it different for me, for my children, for my clients, for the world.
With hands in prayer, I bow to the woman who inspired the woman I am today. Happy Birthday (tomorrow) Mom.
Photo credit for title picture with candles: Mike Labrum on Unsplash
Photo credit for the tree stump: Zach Lezniewicz on Unsplash
Photo credit for black and white water: Photo by Ryan Parker on Unsplash
Photo credit for person letting go of birds: Photo 100034555 / Birds Flying Hand © Khwanchai Phanthong | Dreamstime.com
Photo credit for chain and light: Photo by Aida L on Unsplash
Photo credit for Woman looking at Ocean: Photo by Artem Kovalev on Unsplash
Photo credit for Pearl: Photo by Marin Tulard on Unsplash
Photo credit for Ripple: Photo by Jonathan Cosens Photography on Unsplash